“Ek parinda bhi nahi mar sakta Ayodhya main (I will not allow a bird to flap its wing in Ayodhya)”—the line famously delivered by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1990 that was to make him presiding deity of M-Y (Muslim—Yadav) politics in Uttar Pradesh for quarter of a century after that.
The then chief minister of U.P. was responding to the BJP backed VHP’s call to karsevaks to gather in Ayodhya on October 30, 1990 and start the construction of a Ram temple there.
When frenzied karseveks tried to break into the Babri Masjid, Mulayam ordered police firing to repulse them—something P V Narasimha Rao could not do on December 6, 1992, leading to demolition of the Babri Masjid.
The firing did not immediately earn Mulayam Singh the goodwill of Muslim community. It triggered off anger amongst the Hindus in U.P. and led to communal clashes in the state. There was curfew in as many as 20 districts and 48 died in Bijnore alone. Mulayam Singh lost the 1991 election that followed and the BJP came to power in UP with as many as 221 seats and Kalyan Singh as CM.
It was after the demolishing of the Babri Masjid in 1992 that the Muslims realized the importance of what ‘Netaji’ had done for them in 1990. He became darling of the community and came back to power in the 1993 elections. Such was the faith of Muslims reposed in him that they used to frequently say that had the Netaji been in power in Lucknow, he would not have let the Mosque be demolished.
Mulayam Singh’s “parinda” remark came at a time when the BJP leader L K Advani’s Somnath-to-Ayodhya Rathyatra had been cut short by Lalu Prasad in Samastipur, Bihar on October 23, 1990. The BJP had withdrawn its support to the National Front government and then Prime Minister V P Singh’s ministry was tattering on the brink, setting off the countdown to the elections. Despite Advani’s arrest in Bihar, the karsevaks continued to make their way to Ayodhya from all corners of UP, on foot and even swimming across Sarayu river.
The BJP saw the Ram temple as a emotional issue that could arouse Hindu opinion in favour of elections. The party hit out at Mulayam over the firing on Ram Bhaktas, took out an asthikalash yatra of the remains of the “martyred” karsevaks and held a memorial meeting for them at Delhi’s boat club in April 1991 – on eve of the national election that year.
Though 28 people died in the firing — BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee put the figure at 56—the situation could have been worse if not for precautionary measures Mulayam had put in place. Hours before the proposed “karseva” on October 30, the government arrested 1,50,000 karsevaks in UP.
For all his differences with then prime minister, Mulayam moved in step with Home Ministry at the Centre. Naresh Chandra, an outstanding bureaucrat whose services were utilised by several Prime Ministers for his tough and out- of-box approach, was the Home Secretary. Raj Bhargava was the Chief Secretary. “I had 90,000 people confined in cantonments,” Naresh Chandra once said, “Dozens culverts along the bus routes that would have brought these people were blown up in UP. Trains were cancelled at will”. Chandra had delegated the power to the Home Secretary to Raj Bhargava, who was in the high seat. The Railway Board Chairman was told that if the Chief Secretary gave the orders that a train had to be cancelled, he had to comply. The effort was to keep the karsevaks out of Ayodhya, so that it did not become an inflammable situation. CM Mulayam Singh cooperated totally with the Centre and did not interfere in the Home Ministry planning.
A tough stand on Ayodhya suited Mulayam Singh politically. He had been a beneficiary of Mandal politics, and now wanted to augment and consolidate his OBC base. It seemed good politics to get Muslims – 19—20% of the population in UP—0n his side, along with his own Yadav community, who made up around 10%.
The M-Y combine began to crack in 2014 when Narendra Modi came to power. A section of Yadavas, who were getting Hinduised, swerved towards the BJP. Yogi Adityanath’s decision to accord the state funeral to Mulayam showed that the BJP continues to eye the Yadav community for support. Mulayam had himself spoken in favour of Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections.
Mulayam leaves a rich legacy for his son Akhilesh Yadav and for the Samajwadi party he built. But he also leaves them a challenge— to fashion a new constituency that goes beyond the M-Y platform that he forged in 1990 and a way to counter Modi’s heady cocktails of Hindutva, nationalism, social welfareism, strong leadership and co-option of OBC and the most backward among them. (IPA Service)